"Center Court" with G Emmanuel Igbinosa (#13)
The Bootleg: We are here with Stanford's senior guard Emmanuel Igbinosa. Emmanuel, you were recruited by quite a few schools coming out of high school, and some pretty impressive ones at that: Oklahoma, Tulsa, Columbia, Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. Obviously, it looks like academics won out, but what made you choose the Stanford Cardinal over the Ivy League's Columbia Lions?
Emmanuel Igbinosa: Basically, I chose Stanford over Columbia because when I came out here for a visit, I was very impressed by the West Coast and the Bay Area and how it was a nice, "chill" environment.
TB: I know Houston, and Texas in general, is a hotbed for basketball. What were some of the more prominent names you played with growing up in "H-Town"?
EI: On my high school team, I played with Jay Lucas, whose father was John Lucas, Sr. who played in the NBA. So pretty much every weekend, his dad would come in and bring some NBA players and we would work out with them because it would help us get better as a team. And then his brother John Jr. (who played at Oklahoma State) would come through and a bunch of other guys would come out as well, including (former UConn star and NCAA POY) Emeka Okafor.
TB: So when you came to Stanford, did you always have it in your mind that you wanted eventually to walk-on the basketball squad?
EI: Yes, I kind of did. When I first came, I thought I had given up basketball for good, so I put it in my mind that I would have a strictly academic focus. But after five months, I realized that there was a void and I couldn't fill it with anything else besides basketball. I tried intramurals and other kinds of sports, but nothing really filled that void like basketball. So I figured that I'm still healthy, I'm still young, so I might as well try it, and I did.
TB: Walk us through the process of getting yourself a walk-on spot on the team.
EI: So, officially, I first tried in my sophomore year. I went in and talked to the coaching staff and asked them about it, but they told me the team was full and there wasn't a spot for a walk-on. I went back and worked on my game and waited to see what would happen the next year, so that whole year was spent improving my game and just playing. The coming summer, I was working in Chicago and playing there a lot. When I came back, there was a new coaching staff coming in and a couple of players that went to the NBA and a couple others that graduated, so there were spots open. Then I talked to the new staff, and they said they'd like to see me play. So they came and watched me play at the (Arrillaga) Rec Center and liked what they saw, and then invited me to practice. And then in practice they liked what they saw, so I got a spot on the team.
TB: How was the transition for you when you first made the varsity team? How much of an adjustment was it from what you were used to on the basketball court?
EI: From what I was used to the previous year, it was a big adjustment in terms of conditioning. The kind of player that I am, I like to run a lot, but when you're playing for fun, there are always so many lulls in the game where you can take a breather. But at this level, there are very few rest periods during the course of a game or a practice, so in the beginning, I came in on the tail-end of conditioning, so I wasn't in as good of shape as everyone else. I felt that it was noticeable that I was getting winded faster. On a "skill" level, personally, I thought I was up there, but on a "conditioning" level, I feel like that set me back a little bit, but that changed over time.
TB: I know that this is a very close-knit group and "everybody likes everybody", but was it hard for you to make friends on the team at first?
EI: Actually it was pretty cool; it was a nice transition because having been at Stanford for the previous two years, I had known players on the team because I went to open gyms and played with them. And so they kind of knew that I wanted to be on the team so when I did make it, it was kind of an easy transition into just chilling and hanging out with these guys. So I would say that was one of the smoother parts of being on the team, because when it happened (making the team), having known these guys was a great advantage for me.
TB: We know you take your studies very seriously - I've seen you break out books on team buses or work on problem sets in the locker room- the whole deal. How was it balancing class and basketball in your first year on the team?
EI: Oh man, that was probably the worst part of it, to tell you the truth (laughing). This whole time, I saw it coming, but I didn't imagine that it would be that great of a magnitude because I did the same thing in high school, and my high school was pretty competitive academically. So I thought, "maybe I'll be able to handle it like I did in high school". But college basketball is much more taxing and requires a lot more time, so it was a lot more difficult in the beginning because free time was erased from my schedule. The main thing was that I had to deal with that and realize that I was going to give away my free time so I could play basketball and still go to school. Of course, extra-curriculars are involved in that too, so I just had to learn how to cope.
TB: Your game is silky-smooth- you have a great ability, mentally, to slow the game down, and then use your quickness to get by defenders. Growing up, were there any college or NBA stars that you tried to emulate?
EI: (Thinking) I didn't really go for NBA stars, I went for people who were a level right above me- like an immediate goal, someone I could emulate right away. When I was in middle school, I went to a lot of high school games and saw people on the teams that I watched and I was like, "ooh, I like that. I want to incorporate that in my game". So it kind of worked like that - where I was always looking to the next step, and that's how my game progressed.
TB: You only got to see action in four games, but when you got in there, you were pretty impressive - scoring a bucket in each game you entered and playing some pretty solid defense. This is stuff you had been doing consistently in practice, so when it came time to pop in for a real game, how similar or different did it feel to you than 5-on-5 drills during preparations?
EI: It felt much better to me, because I went in there and said "I'm just going to go in and be me. I have nothing to lose, so I'm just going to go for it". To me, it felt a little better than a 5-on-5 situation in practice because they can't stop us because of a bad play. The worst they could do is sub you out, and they might sub me out anyway, so I was just going to go for it.
TB: What was running through your mind as you got in to your first game against Texas Tech?
EI: I was like, "Let's do this!". I think I had a little more juice because we were playing against a Texas school, and that's my home, and it gave me that much more motivation to perform as well as I can.
TB: Seeing how good you looked in spots last year, what do you expect your role to be for the upcoming season, and how do you envision yourself contributing?
EI: Last year, I was there to help push teammates and move us along in practice and make sure everyone was working their hardest, especially with me coming at them on offense or guarding them on defense. And I feel like that role is still around as far as my position on the team, but I feel like I will also be more needed this year offensively and defensively, just a more important player- someone who is needed in games as opposed to just practice. Even though I felt like I could play in games last year, I wasn't going to be able to get into a game unless I killed everybody in practice, which is very hard to do considering we have a pretty good team.
TB: Tell us on which facets of your game you have been working the most lately to get ready for the upcoming season.
EI: What I've been working on so far is trying to keep my shot up and get that to where it is really consistent. I like my shot now, but I want it to be better and as good as it can possibly be. I've also worked on my drive lefty-floater, that's something I really think I've got down and I'm going to keep that rolling. But my defensive presence, that's what I really put the most of my eggs in this summer. I know I have the ability - it's just about transferring that over mentally and just doing it. I feel like I do it 70% of the time, actively going out and stopping people. I just have to do it more consistently- I know I can do it. I just have to push myself.
TB: Looking back on the first three weeks of workouts, in what area do you think the team has improved most?
EI: I think our "chemistry" is most improved. Our adjustment to the coaching staff and new players has improved overall as far as how we work together and play with each other on the court. Earlier on last year, we didn't know what the coaches wanted and there were new players on the team, and it was a little shaky to start out, and it never really clicked as well as it could have. But now, we're a bunch of guys who hang out with each other and are always chilling, so the chemistry is there. And we're fighting against everybody else- we're ranked as low as you can go. So it's just like "Screw it, it's us against the world. Might as well go for it". We have the mentality is that it's just us and there's nothing stopping us from being successful. I really think that the way we play together has improved and it will help us for the upcoming season.
TB: You have a unique perspective on Stanford Basketball- from being a fan your first two years of college to walking on to the team, so in your eyes, what do you think Stanford must do in order to continue their winning ways, and especially during the Pac-10 season?
EI: Along with the chemistry, I like the running game! As long as no one has a selfish mentality and tries to take it all on themselves, we'll be all right.
TB: Being a senior, I know you're thinking about life after Stanford. Can you give us any insight as to what those plans might be? Anything basketball-related?
EI: I don't really know if it's going to be basketball-related yet. My first two years I was on a business-route: I'm majoring in Management Science & Engineering- so it's like business and engineering. I've been consulting the past two summers in different states, so I've been trying to see the world and see the opportunities that are out there in terms of business. But I haven't really been thinking about basketball as a career until this season, because I'm really trying to improve my game. I'm still open to any opportunity there is, but I just want to have something there for me in case it doesn't go down.
TB: Last question. I know the (Houston) Rockets are limping in to the 2009-2010 season, how do you feel about their chances of making it back to the NBA playoffs.
EI: Well being a fan, I don't know if I'd be a
die-hard, but I'm going to go ahead and say that. I'm not going to pick any other
team over them (laughs). So I would
say no matter what anybody else thinks, playoffs are always in our future. And
we just gotta do it, do what it do!
About the Bootleg's Newest Author: Kevin Danna, Stanford '09, started out as a student manager-in-training for the Men's Basketball Team on October 14, 2005, and has lived and breathed Stanford Basketball ever since. From doing laundry to filming practice to working summer camps, he has been involved with many facets of the Men's Basketball program. Upon retirement from his manager position on March 25, 2009 at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season, Kevin took an undeservedly prolonged break from any kind of work and eventually got his degree from The Farm in Spanish. Shaking off the cobwebs of five months of laziness, Kevin has started working as a play-by-play and color broadcaster for gostanford.com, calling home contests (in English) for several Stanford sports. He also hosts a sports talk show on 90.1 FM KZSU from 9-10pm every Tuesday entitled "The Sports Zoo", as well as a music show called "408's Finest" immediately following sports talk from 10pm-Midnight. An alumnus of San Jose's Bellarmine Prep, Kevin proudly admits that he currently lives at home in San Jose with his parents and cat.
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